Tuesday, February 14, 2012

Don't Miss the Boat: A New York Love Story

One sultry summer day in 1997 I met my future husband on a boat to Ellis Island. It was as romantic as it sounds.

I was 39 years old and unmarried, 38 of those years by choice. My Korean mother, who to her great regret started a family before she graduated from college, programmed me well: I was to have an education and an independent career before I got married, and at the same time, no man was good enough for me. To my mother’s dismay, it worked too well. Not only did I have one career, as a college professor, I started as second one, in law, and now she was worried I’d never meet a life companion.

I started to worry, too. I had earlier convinced myself that I was fine being alone, thank you very much, but now I had just moved to New York City, from Chicago by way of Ohio, had no clue about how to meet anyone, and dearly wanted someone to share my life. It couldn’t be anyone – it had be someone interested in books, history, music, especially classical piano, films and art but most of all, someone with an ironic sense of humor – another gift from my sharp-witted mother. I was so lonely that I filled out a notebook form at a coffee shop that facilitated dates. When I listed my education: B.A./M.A./Ph.D from The University of Chicago and soon to be J.D. from Columbia Law with a specialty in First Amendment law, I thought: “No way anyone’s going to call me.” And no one did.

My fellow law students were in their early 20s –way too young. One of them, a brilliant, extremely stylish and extremely short 24-year old Vietnamese woman name Thi, dragged me one day while we were working as summer law firm clerks to an event at Ellis Island hosted by The Lawyers Committee on Human Rights. I didn’t want to go but she was adamant. When we boarded the boat at the southern most end of Manhattan, a man in shirtsleeves with blondish hair and, yes I’ll say it – dreamy blue eyes - sat behind us, mopping sweat from his brow from the heat. “You lawyers?” He inquired. I said yes, budding lawyers. He was a journalist on the editorial board of a New York newspaper, invited to the event by friends he knew on the Committee. He had interviewed them on series of articles about Cuban prisoners back when he was at the Atlanta Journal-Constitution. (I found out later that the series made him a finalist for the Pulitzer Prize).

A writer! My heart quickened. The conversation came easily and we ended up chatting further at Ellis Island, surrounded by its riveting, haunting history and the glorious harbor. I looked very young, so I made a sure he knew I was older than the other law students and found out he was ten years my senior. No problem.

The boat ride back on jet-black, gentle waves gave us a tremendous view of the skyscrapers of lower Manhattan, now glittering with lights and bathed in the romantic glow of the smitten. I confided to Thi that I’d like to see this man again, but didn’t know what to do. He was about to disembark and walk out of my life forever. She suggested running after him to ask him for his business card. (I told you she was brilliant!) I did just that and he said: “Would you like to go to dinner sometime?”

When I got back to the law firm, I promptly did a Lexis search (no one Googled back then). If he wasn’t a good writer, I would be very disappointed indeed. I was pleased to see many, many awards and columns of great insight, including one that talked about a trip into Brooklyn while musing on the current Edward Hopper exhibit –I love Hopper and had just seen that exhibit! Later, on our many daily phone conversations, I found out he’s so well-read it puts me to shame, is extremely and sharply funny, and – something important to me – is of a shared cultural heritage that made it unnecessary to explain, for example, what Watergate means or who Floyd the Barber is. In fact, he’s a big fan of Floyd’s. To top it off, he mentioned in passing that he owns a baby grand piano and likes classical music. That's the equivalent of a red Ferrari to other women. I was hooked.

Who knew that I’d meet just the right man for me late in life in New York City on that fateful boat. He’s a southern gentleman from East Texas and Oklahoma, a slow talker with each well-chosen word a gem, a writer of extraordinary original ideas grounded in facts and observation, and quite simply the kindest, most humane person I ever met. Since that first dinner, we have not gone a day without chatting and laughing, and we’ve now been together almost 15 years, married for twelve.

That’s my New York love story. I guess the motto is, don’t give up. You never know. Don’t miss the boat.

And they lived happily ever after.